University of Vermont

New Captain On Board Rubenstein School Research Vessel Melosira

Staff profile

Steve Cluett, captain of the Rubenstein School research vessel Melosira
Steve Cluett, new captain of the research vessel Melosira

Captain Steve Cluett came on board in May 2012 to take over the helm of the Rubenstein School’s research vessel Melosira. The Melosira, docked alongside the Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory on Burlington’s Lake Champlain waterfront, is used for teaching and research on the lake.

With a life time of experience in boat operation, Steve comes to Burlington from Port Jefferson on Long Island, New York. There, he captained the Seawolf, the ocean-going research vessel of the Marine Sciences Research Center at Stony Brook University for 14 years.

"Growing up on Cape Cod, I came home wet every day in the summer.  It was all about water and small boats," he fondly recalls. His father hailed from Newfoundland with a maritime background, and his grandfather was a schooner captain. "I had some proud relatives in Newfoundland when I became a boat captain and there was a second Captain Cluett in the family," he adds.

As a marine sciences major at Northeastern University in Boston, Steve worked for the National Marine Fisheries Service both before and after graduation. With a growing interest in fisheries management, he immersed himself in the fishing industry and for five years, held jobs on commercial fishing vessels out of Newport, Rhode Island.

Through these experiences, Steve became proficient and enamored with the operational side of boats.  He transitioned from deckhand to captain of two fishing vessels for a brief period.  Deciding to change course, he earned his captain and coast guard licenses and moved with his family to upstate New York where he served as captain of a fishing research vessel on Lake Ontario for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

After 13 years, Steve returned to the Atlantic Coast and began his tenure as captain of the Seawolf.  He guided mostly research trips, often for seven or eight days, into the Atlantic Ocean and lower stretches of the Hudson River for Stony Brook University, state agencies, private consultants, and the military. Among other projects, Steve participated in an Atlantic sturgeon project for which he helped tag over 400 sturgeon; multi-beam sonar mapping along the Hudson; geology and water sampling work; and release of rehabilitated dolphins.

"Although the Stony Brook program is much bigger than the one here, the wide variety of work on the Melosira and Lake Champlain is very similar," Steve explains. "The Melosira is a nice fit for the size of the Rubenstein program. I've known the original, long-time captain, Dick Furbush, many years and had the opportunity to work with him several times. One thing that attracted me to the UVM position was the knowledge that the vessel program Dick created was a very well run operation with an excellent reputation."

Steve hit the deck running this summer and fall. With the help of seasoned deckhand Patrick Gorman, a senior in the Rubenstein School, he led research outings on the lake  involving a blue-green algae project on Missisquoi Bay for Vermont EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research sponsored by the National Science Foundation); fish collections for Michigan State University; contaminate work; filming from one end of the Lake to the other for Burlington's ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center; and RSENR Associate Professor Jason Stockwell's night time Mysis shrimp sampling. Educational excursions included 10 labs in one week for RSENR's first-year introductory Natural Resources 1 course as well as local middle and high school class trips.

"We are extremely fortunate to have Steve on board at the Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory," says Lab Director Jason Stockwell. "He brings more than 25 years of experience working on the ocean and in the Great Lakes, working with students and scientists, and engaging stakeholders to our program on Lake Champlain. We could not have dreamed up a better avatar than Steve to captain the Melosira."

Steve temporarily lives on his sailboat moored off a marina in Charlotte, Vermont.  By spring 2013, Steve and his wife Anne, a registered nurse, will officially move to the Burlington area. With all three of their children enrolled in or graduated from college, the time is right to find a slower paced life style.  Burlington, Vermont and the Melosira are just right.